Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Henry of Ghent: The First Scotist

Or I might have titled this, in an homage to our Cambridge 'friends', "Henry, the first univocal ontologist". But, since I see all of philosophy before Scotus as laying the ground for Scotus, and therefore people like Aristotle, Aquinas, and Henry are all early "Scotists," I went with the latter title. Today's selection is a passage in Henry where he more or less brings up univocity of the Scotistic type. To be sure, he rejects it, but this is a minor irrelevance. Note that the context is whether God understands by many acts of knowing or one.

Henricus de Gandavo, Summa quaestionum ordinarium, a.40 q.5 (ed. Badius 1, f. 248v):

"ubi igitur est una simplex ratio formalis intelligendi plurium, et unus simplex intuitus quo illa intelliguntur. Et ubi sunt diversae rationes intelligendi plura, necesse est quod pluribus actibus intelligendi intelligantur. Aliter enim sequeretur quod idem intellectus simul esset plures secundum unum genus entis quia omne intelligibile inquantum intelligibile, habet rationem unius generis entis in intellectu, licet extra sit sub diversis generibus entis et illud est impossibile, sicut est impossible quod idem sit informatum pluribus albendinibus. Unde cum multa in re extra habent unam rationem formalem intellectu in illa, simul unico intuitu intelliguntur ut partes totius continui, et diversae unitates unius numeri"

Translation for the Latin disinclined:

Where there is one simple means of understanding many things, there is one simple intuition by which they are understood. And where there are diverse means of understanding many things, it is necessary that they be understood by many acts of understanding. For otherwise it would follow that the same understanding would be of many according to one genus of being because every intelligible, insofar as it is intelligible, has the notion of one genus of being in the intellect, although outside it is under diverse genera of being. And that is impossible, just as it is impossible that the same thing be informed by many whitenesses. Hence since many things in the thing outside have one formal ratio in that intellect, they are understood simultaneously by a single intuition, as parts of a continuum and diverse unities of one number.


Scott Williams said...


Crude said...

This is a tremendously ignorant question of mine, but still I ask: Is there a very big difference between Scotist and Aquinas' thought?

Michael Sullivan said...

Crude, that depends on your standards of measurement. Compared to, say, Nietzsche or Hobbes, Aquinas and Scotus are very similar. But in the context of medieval scholasticism, they are quite far apart and there are very significant differences between their philosophies on a wide range of subjects.

Crude said...

By the way, I was wondering if anyone on this blog intended to give some response to the recent claim that Intelligent Design proponents are (or at least are in large part) scotists?

It was borne out of an argument between Edward Feser and VJ Torley - you all likely have seen it. Given how much virtual ink was spilled over the subject, I was hoping to see those better versed in scotist philosophy weighing in.

Michael Sullivan said...


I've been more or less following the series of exchanges, but not taking care to read every last post and every comment on every blog thoroughly, and I didn't see the claim you mention. Do you have a link? If you can point it out I'll take a look and consider whether I have anything worthwhile to say about it.

Crude said...


Sure thing.

I'm speaking specifically of this post, with a few highlights:

You might not know the guy in the picture above. John Duns Scotus, O.F.M, was one of the greatest theologians of the Middle Ages. A penetrating thinker of unsurpassed ingenuity, he was nicknamed the Subtle Doctor. Later on in this post, I’ll argue that in one particular respect, his philosophy is particularly ID-friendly – even more so than that of St. Thomas Aquinas.


(2) Thomists might object to this, but they can’t speak for everyone. For instance, the Catholic theologian Duns Scotus (whose portrait is at the top of this post) taught that the term “intelligent” had the same meaning when applied to God and human beings. I should add that St. Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus were not so far apart on this issue, anyway.


(3) Professor Feser has got ID proponents pegged wrong. We’re not Paleyites. He’d be more charitable if he called us Scotists.

The entire post is basically dedicated to this line of thought.

Michael Sullivan said...

I've been reading the essay and there's a lot of interesting stuff in it. I hope to comment on it soon.